Exclusive Q&A—Meet ‘The Ambassador’: For $135,000, You Could Be Him

'The Ambassador' documentary is a painfully funny object lesson on how to take advantage of a cash-poor African country and gain diplomatic immunity.

Mads Brugger shakes hands with a pair of men from the Central African Republic in The Ambassador

Mads Brügger makes some new acquaintances in the Central African Republic in ‘The Ambassador.’ (Photo: Courtesy of Drafthouse Films)

Stephen Saito writes about movies for the L.A. Times, IFC.com and his own site, The Moveable Fest.

In Mads Brügger’s first film, The Red Chapel, the director infiltrated North Korea with a pair of Danish comedians who had been adopted to Europe from North Korea as infants. The Red Chapel exposed the absurdity of North Korea’s police state, under the guise of conducting a cultural exchange from Denmark. The film’s only downside was that it forced the Danish filmmaker to think big to come up with a worthy follow-up.

While browsing the Web in 2007, Brügger learned that the right amount of money could buy an ambassadorship from a cash-poor country, such as Liberia and the Central African Republic. Brügger knew he had found a subject worth expanding upon—in a way it hadn’t been expanded upon before—for another feature.

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“It’s a problem that people don’t want to watch documentaries, at least [ones about] Africa anymore. They’re tired of this pornography of suffering, this constant portrayal of Africans as victims and so on,” Brugger tells TakePart. “So I thought I could make a game changer, genre-wise, about Africa.”

Drop the reference to genres: Brügger’s latest, The Ambassador, qualifies as a game changer among films of any kind.

At this point, it’s clear the filmmaker is afraid of very little. Still, after trips to two of the world’s most notorious locales, you’d think nothing would surprise Brügger anymore, but you’d be wrong.

Wildly entertaining and infuriating, opening this week in theaters and available on demand, The Ambassador has the filmmaker assuming the role of Mr. Cortzen, a brash entrepreneur who buys an ambassadorship from Liberia and floods the Central African Republic with cash in the hopes of starting a blood diamond trafficking operation under the cover of a match factory with easy access in and out of the local airport provided by the diplomatic immunity he’s gained from the Liberian ambassadorship.

While Brügger’s character is a work of fiction, the men who accept “envelopes of happiness” to bribe them with are not. The film watches Mr. Cortzen nimbly work his way up the ladders of the corrupt Liberian government with the help of a Dutch broker of diplomatic titles.  

“It’s also a story about how very fragile these failed states are and how exposed they are to [people such as] Mr. Cortzen because he is fully capable of almost destroying such a country within weeks,” says Brügger. “The question is, of course, what will happen when the real Mr. Cortzen comes to town?”

In the virtually lawless Central African Republic, reality takes on a completely different meaning, as Brügger would discover. Basing his character as much on actual African diplomats who smoke Dunhills and imbibe Johnny Walker as much as cartoon creations such as Curious George’s Man in the Yellow Hat and Tintin nemesis Dr. Müller, the filmmaker found that the more outrageous he became, the more credible he was among those who profit off the backs of villagers who toil in the diamond mines.

Naturally, Liberia has threatened legal action against Brügger. The country isn’t disputing that he obtained a title, just that he used it to embarrass its porous system.

At this point, it’s clear the filmmaker is afraid of very little. Still, after trips to two of the world’s most notorious locales, you’d think nothing would surprise Brügger anymore, but you’d be wrong.

“Recently, I read the U.N. had appointed Robert Mugabe as their ambassador of tourism, which I think is really bizarre and shocking,” says Brügger of the Zimbabwe president who’s long been suspected of ethnic cleansing. “Even more than what is in The Ambassador.”

Mugabe is fortunate Brügger has already found his next project: An investigation into the mysterious death of European Union official Antonio Quatraro, who was about to go on trial for corruption charges before his passing.

As The Ambassador proves, no shady operator is shielded in front of Brügger’s camera. For the people of the world who want transparency, that’s a good thing.

Was Mads Brügger unfair in tricking African officials to sell him diplomatic immunity? Leave an opinion in COMMENTS.

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